Saturday, October 11, 2008

Padampa's Animal Kingdom — Part One

In this and upcoming blogs, I will attempt what I'm hoping will be an interesting experiment.  No, I mean for you, not for me.  Yes, of course I have been interested in Padampa and the Peacemaking Collection*  for about 25 years.  When I first saw those five volumes on the library shelves I wanted more than anything to read and understand what was written in them.  But my attempts failed rather miserably. Meanwhile I did quite a bit of reading of 11th-12th century Tibetan texts, familiarizing myself with early Tibetan vocabulary (the myth of Classical Tibetan's unchanging nature being little more than what I just called it, a myth).  Over the years, each time I went back to the Peacemaking Collection it made more sense to me.  This gradual process of finding more sense in it still continues today.  Someday I hope to report my complete success.  But you know what they say, don't you?  "Hope [not hair] sprouts eternal."
*My name for it.  'Peacemaking' translates Zhijé (Zhi-byed), name of a school of Tibetan Buddhism that preserved Padampa's teachings.
Padampa was a lot more complicated and interesting person than has been generally recognized, even among the experts.  Much of what we think we know proves only partly right or entirely mistaken.  We do get startlingly clear glimpses from time to time of who he was and what he was up to, so long as we stick with the earliest sources. He is best remembered in both Tibet and the world as author of the Tingri Hundred (Ding-ri Brgya-rtsa), a set of couplets that has survived in collections of various length and content.  Its English translation was edited and published long ago by an Oxford-educated American by the name of W.Y. Evans-Wentz.  

We say Padampa died in 1117 CE, but this consensus is based on unexamined faith in the Blue Annals coupled with ignorance of other sources like the Gya Pö Yigtsang, which seems to give the date 1108.  These days I'm thinking that it ought to be either this or  1105 (one 12-year cycle earlier, this date actually occurs in one chronology), since a somewhat earlier date makes better sense in light of his contacts with western Tibetan kings.  

Usually we just say Padampa was an Indian and leave it at that. True, he was born in South India, probably in coastal Andhra, son of a brahmin sea captain (I know, I know, brahmins aren't ever supposed to leave Mother India...). But he was also a great traveler. He traveled the entire length and breadth of India. During his three extended periods of residence in Tibet he became so proficient in the local language that his followers could state proudly that, unlike teaching sessions with other Indian masters, "none of the fuzzy approximations of translation intervened."  He was Indian, but he could have taken Tibetan citizenship, no problem, although he didn't place much store in such things as societies and kings.

For today, I would like to concentrate less on the author and more on the metaphors. First of all, I use the word 'metaphor' only for convenience, in a *very* broad sense. Padampa often spoke in statements what may often seem, at first, cryptic without good reason.  Some look like insoluble riddles, others brief allusions to lengthy parables. Eventually, if understanding comes at all, one begins to recognize that these are usually more and less extended analogies for such things as: the teacher-student relationship, the value of renunciation, meditative experiences, and ways of dealing with the afflictive mental events that Buddhists call kleshas.  I think these topics cover the majority, perhaps as much as ninety percent.  I doubt this will be clear to anyone upon a first reading of the Root Text.  So let this be a hint.

There are two sources that I will be using for the animal metaphors.  The first, which I will call for simplicity the Root Text is what we will look at today.  The second can wait awhile.  Both are preserved in what I call the Peacemaking Collection, published with a preface by Barbara Nimri Aziz. A few years ago I received via the National Archives in Kathmandu a microfilm of the manuscript that was used as the basis of that publication.  In general I feel I have successfully dated the scribing of the manuscript to within a decade of the year 1250, and identified it as a copy, probably very nearly identical in its title content, of an unavailable 'golden' (gold ink) manuscript scribed between the years 1207 and 1210 CE.  (The argument is complicated, but I'd gladly post that paper for you if you wanted me to.)

My instructions for you, if you choose to follow them, are marvelously simple.  Go ahead and do your best to figure out what Padampa is expressing in his animal metaphors.  If you can read the Tibetan original text (here unfortunately supplied in tiny Roman letters) you might have a slight edge over others, although I'm not completely sure of it.  Once you have read them through a time or two,  go to the very bottom of the page and open the attachment you will find there.  A file should open up for you. This contains the same set of animal metaphors, only this time supplied with footnotes that may aid comprehension of a certain number of the metaphors.  How are you at untying knots?

If this doesn't work for you at all, well, not to put it too bluntly...  It isn't for everyone. You have to have the taste for it.  You have to have the drive.  Don't worry about it.  In any case, I'd be happy if you would let me know how it goes.

Things to read if you can (be sure that a bigger bibliography is on its way):

W.Y. Evans-Wentz, ed., "The Last Testamentary Teachings of the Guru Phadampa Sangay, according to the Late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English Rendering," contained in: The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, Oxford University Press (Oxford 1970; first published in 1954), pp. 241-252.

The Hundred Verses of Advice from Padampa Sangye to the People of Tingri Explained by Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, translated from the Tibetan by the Padmakara Translation Group, Shechen Publications (Kathmandu, no date).  Most highly  recommended!
NOTE:  Some Sufi felt free to hang the verses up on his internet site, but I recommend getting the inexpensive book, which contains the explanations of the verses by the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.  So does the Sufi.

Rudolf Kaschewsky, Die Lehrworte des Pha-dam-pa, contained in: R. Kaschewsky,
et al., eds., Serta Tibeto-Mongolica (Wiesbaden 1973) 171-204, with the text in the form of a photocopy of a woodblock print at pp. 174-183.

Neldjorma Seunam Ouangmo, translator, Le Testament Spirituel: Les cent préceptes de Ding-Ri, Dernières recommandations de Pa Dampa Sangyé, Editions Yogi Ling (Evaux-les-Bains 1997).

Kurtis Schaeffer, Crystal Orbs and Arcane Treasuries: Anthologies of Buddhist Tantric Songs from the Tradition of Dampa Sangye, 
Acta Orientalia, vol. 68 (2007), pp. 5-74.

David Molk and Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche, translators, Lion of Siddhas: The Life and Teachings of Padampa Sangye, Snow Lion (Ithaca 2008).

These Padampa blogs are dedicated to S.R.A.  She knows who she is.

Everybody knows that ice is water.  Still, we often forget that before it can do what water does it has to melt.  
(— A Padampa paraphrase)


  1. Is there really no Tibetan commentary on these metaphors? And if so, is that because they were obscure even to Tibetans? After reading through them I feel like I've swallowed a wild bee.

    No.2 puzzled me (meat in water?) and I wondered if there could be an alternative translation. If we leave nad as it is, then we have chu yi nad, a class of illness, characterized by "impure blood". (see "chu nad" here.

    So could it be something like this? "The bloodsucking leech doesn't go after flesh that has a water illness."

    I won't go so far as to try to interpret what that might mean!

  2. Dear Early T., I think the next blog will answer at least one of your questions, whether there have been any commentaries. I'll have to think more about the water disease, but I really don't think so. I do think if you give it a little more time (and wait for a few weeks until the next posting) the translation will make sense as it is. If you've swallowed the bee, it's likely you've "caught the bug," as they say... Padampa's like that.
    Yours, D.

  3. Dear Early T,

    I do find your recommendation to read chu-yi nang as chu-yi nad entertaining, and at least for that reason worthy of entertaining. But since 'water disease' in Tibetan medicine seems mainly to refer to what we would nowadays call 'fluid retention' problems (in old-fangled language, dropsy and the like). I have problems thinking how this hunk of flesh could still be diagnosed as having that condition. But not so for the leech, who might in fact be totally engorged with liquid and therefore suffering from a 'water disease' of sorts. Perhaps you would want to read it, "not going after the flesh [of a person who] has the water disease." But like I hinted before, maybe we should hold off on this discussion until getting to the single source I know of that could solve this and many other problems of interpretation. That ought to happen sometime soon if you stay tuned.

    Yours, D.

  4. Near the bottom of the "side bar" on this page, just under the word "statcounter," you will find the words Tibskrit 2008. Clicking on this name will take you to a download site. The file is a large one, but if you have a 21st century machine, it should take less than 5 minutes. This huge file will be useful to people who are actively engaged in research on Indian and Tibetan studies and who make use of original-language sources. First released to the public in March 2006, this 2008 version is about 400 pages longer. Feel free to pass the download link to anyone you think might like to use it. Cheers!

  5. may I advertise it on thorbu? that's the least I can do as a 'frequent user'.



  6. Dear PSz,

    Sure, of course you can. It's a free country, isn't it? (A little joke there. Do you know of any? Free countries, I mean.)


  7. dear Dan,

    free countries? nope, but I hear that Iceland is pretty cheap nowadays. there is a joke going on around here: what is the capital of Iceland? 2 pounds fifty p.

    thanks, will advertise.


  8. Dear Dan:

    May a visitor take a whack at these? The sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers is normally where I roam, but I find these have caught my eye.

  9. Whack away, as long as whacking is just a metaphor. I've been reading a little Evagrius lately myself, trying to fight off the noonday demon, as everyone must. If you are thinking that early Christian 'ascetic theology' has an affinity with Padampa's thinking, I think you must be on to something.

  10. Meanwhile, part two of Padampa's Animal Kingdom has gone up. Sorry about the delay.

  11. Just an idea (in this post and at this point), now that the discussion is moving away from the Animal Metaphors. Perhaps they come from a source we might label "Padampa's field exam." As well as accounting for overwhelming presence of practicality, it might also account for the obscurities. After all, the exam would have been given in---India. I can see it now: Padampa rattling off to his own students questions and answers from that killer final exam (given by that luv-to-stump-the-students "prof," no doubt) that he actually passed. Any chance of a source document? (A little chuckle, chuckle.)

  12. Recent translation of Zhije volume in the Treasury of Precious Instruction by Sarah Harding led me here. Big fan of Dampa Sangye and disciple-wannabe here. I'm not quite sure about meaning of other phrases, but first three are so beautiful. Perhaps I totally misunderstood them, but 1st simile shows the ongoing process of delusion, 2nd focuses on meaning (essence) over words (teaching), and 3rd depicts the mind of yogi.

  13. Thank you anon, for posting a comment. I forgot where I discussed the woodworm (wait, look here:, but a discussion about the leech can be found in this other blog:
    These are difficult ones to crack, but let me know if you find my discussions in anyway helpful. Yours, D

  14. Thank you for the provided links, they are very informative and helpful. The concept of prapañca is intriguing in its specific meaning of "conceptual pacification" which, of course, doesn't pacify anything in ultimate sense, but for the time being it's all nice and cozy. As Padampa Sangye was emphasizing teachings of so-called "definitive meaning" (or teachings with the aim of defining the actuality or "suchness"), I think (most probably hope, not think) that his simile phrases refer to the core concepts of those teachings. Perhaps, they could be explained both in terms of outer (observable) behavior (like in the commentary) and in terms of mental habitual intricacies (not yet available to the direct observation and/or not "controlled"). I'm not in any position to share any opinion with such a prominent scholar like yourself, like I said I'm just a huge fan of Dampa Sangye and I'm only in the beginning of my "spiritual endeavours", so I apologize if I say something utterly stupid. Also I want to thank you for your publications here, there isn't much info on Padampa Sangye in the Internet and my Tibetan language skill is too poor for any independent adventure.


Please write what you think. But please think about what you write. What's not accepted here? No ads, no links to ads, no back-links to commercial pages, no libel against 3rd parties. These comments won't go up, so no need to even try. What's accepted? Everything else, even 1st- & 2nd-person libel, if you think they have it coming.

Follow me on